Saturday, July 2, 2022

In a time of economic uncertainty, James City County applies for new grant to help residents

James City County is in the process of applying for a community development block grant that would directly address the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

The county had a public hearing last week for the Urgent Need CDBG application. The application, which is still being discussed, will request a grant from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development for funding under the urgent need category Homeless and Health Care to provide emergency payment of rent and utilities.

The funding will be used to stabilize low and moderate income households who have been financially impacted by the coronavirus. These are households who would now face eviction or utility cutoff as a direct result of unpaid bills.

According to county documents, there is an urgent need for these grants as the moratorium on evictions came to an end May 18. Those who were protected under the moratorium would find themselves vulnerable to evictions and debt from rent and utilities.

Data from the county shows the average cost of utilities in the area is estimated between $838.43 and $1,541.21 each month.

Keith Denny, housing manager for James City County, said the county has a homelessness prevention program that usually receives funding from July 1 to June 30 of each year. The program typically runs out of funding before that time period is complete and this year the program is running out of funding even more.

The funding will end at the same time the moratorium on evictions and utility bills end, which leaves people without a security net during a time when they’re financially insecure.

“As we near the end of those funds, we don’t have the capacity in that program to assist those in need at this time,” he said. “It’s an urgent need because the moratorium will be lifted before we receive our funding.”

In a letter to he Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, James City County is listed as “hot spot” for coronavirus infection in Hampton Roads, which has caused a significant economic impact on the hospitality industry.

Many who work in the industry have had to seek additional assistance. According to information from the county, the Housing office has 52 Housing Choice Voucher tenants who have either lost their job, been furloughed or experienced reduced hours.

Landlords have reported at least eight of those 52 have not been able to maintain their rent payments. 

There are also eight individuals working with the Virginia Homeless Solutions Program Prevention and nine additional individuals who have exited the program but are still eligible for assistance. Of those nine, landlords report that three are not current on their rent. 

There are also 19 active cases working with the VHSP Rapid Rehousing in addition to six who are eligible for assistance.

Based on that data, the county has determined there will be a need for emergency response funding to assist up to 50 percent of the currently identified need.

“Because James City county is a service industry area, most of the citizens or program participants we work with are in the service industry and all of those jobs are being shutdown,” Denny said, “which caused me to be more aware that it’s not just our current program participants being affected, but it’s across the entire county.”

As a result, many who work in the industry have had to seek additional assistance. 

Currently the funding amount is still being negotiated with the state department, Denny said. But the application draft has been created based on the data from the Housing Voucher and Homeless Prevention Program. However, there might be a need for more research because there isn’t currently data on those who don’t normally receive financial assistance.

Once people have used their stimulus and the additional unemployment benefits end, Denny said he expects there to be even more people who will be in need of financial assistance.

As funding for the current programs runs low, an urgent CDBG is needed.

While those issues continue to be pressing, Denny said the earliest he expects the CDBG grant funding to be secured is early June.

In the meantime, aspects of the grant application could change depending on negotiations with the state and input from the community during the next public hearing.

The next public hearing for the Urgent Need CDBG will be via Zoom at 4 p.m. Wednesday. For information on how to join the meeting, visit James City County online.

The CDBG Urgent Need application and more information on the grant is available online.

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Alexa Doironhttp://wydaily.com
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at alexa@localvoicemedia.com.

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